The highlights: Industry leaders reflect on 2021 Pt.3

The highlights: Industry leaders reflect on 2021 Pt.3

In the final part of our review of how 2021 unfolded in the music business, Amazon Music UK's Dellessa James, NQ's Michael Adex, Warner Records' Sukhraj Johal & more tell us all about how last year unfolded for them. Read their reflections below, and catch up on part 1 and part 2...


Which UK rap story had you most captivated in 2021? 
“Central Cee, he has a completely different agenda to other rappers. He’s definitely putting down foundations for a long career in rap music internationally. At the start of the year I received a mission statement book from him which explained his long-term plans. I have never received anything like that from a rapper or any artist, really pinpointing what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it so I thought that was fascinating, now I’m watching everything he does! I saw him in America with Drake, making some big moves and I heard Ed Sheeran talking about him the other day, speaking about doing a song with him. I’ve got high hopes for Central Cee. I know he is actively working on building himself independently in different territories globally doing remixes and operating with other international artists from Italy to France, he’s been very, very busy so far. I believe long term this will really pay off, and the foundations he’s building now will help make him one of the biggest selling rappers from the UK.”

How important are podcasts to the scene now?
“They have become very important to the scene, especially in underserved, specialist communities, allowing for much needed conversations and open debates. Artists and guests can be rawer and their authentic selves without worrying about normal restrictions found in radio or other media outlets. Podcasts allow listeners to engage whenever and wherever they like, not fixed to a schedule or normal time frame. The medium of podcasts allows for freedom and gives listeners an opportunity to really get to know an artist or guest a lot better than just a normal generic radio interview.”


How did TikTok's impact on the music industry evolve in 2021?
“2021 was the year that TikTok truly came of age for music. We've helped discover new hits, support new talent and also connect established stars and their music with a whole new generation of fans. I really think TikTok has demonstrated its value to every aspect of the music business during the year and we're all delighted with the success the artists, creators and their teams have enjoyed.”

The big one. What was your favourite viral trend?
“For me, it had to be Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ Body. Body encapsulates everything I love about music and the TikTok community: fresh, fun and exciting. We are thrilled to be part of their story globally and that it became the first ever drill track to get to No.1 in the UK.”


Can you sum up 2021 in one word?

What was your Atlantic highlight for 2021?
“Going down to Ipswich Town football stadium to see the Ed Sheeran TikTok livestream – that was magic.”


Did your music business wishes come true in 2021?
“Yes, my wish was for live music to return and it did. Experiencing music live is such an important part of the music ecosystem it was great seeing some of my favourite songs over the last year being played and performed at festivals across the UK – long overdue!!!”

What was the biggest lesson the year taught you?
“It’s important to stay ahead and be open to change, the evermore volatile state of the music business means things change so quickly and to stay successful you need to be able to adapt.”


It’s important to stay ahead and be open to change

Michael Adex, NQ



How has IMPALA maintained indie unity after Brexit?
“We have always been a mix of EU and on-EU markets, so it works well. We all seek the same solutions to Brexit and there are similar issues with the EU’s other neighbours. We have a dedicated working group with IAO looking at the issue from a new angle through our GECAT proposal for a new European cultural area covering the whole of geographical Europe. See”

What were you most proud of in 2021?
“Our 10 points to reform streaming, our members stepping forward to crowdfund the sector’s first carbon calculator with Julie’s Bicycle, our first annual diversity and inclusion report and our ‘20MinutesWith’ podcast series hosted by Juliana Koranteng.”


What was the biggest development in the streaming market in 2021? 
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way that people consume audio content - particularly in lieu of live music. Streaming providers, including the dynamic new entrants in our industry, have really stepped up into that vital role of ensuring that fans can access their favourite audio content and continue to discover more - with new innovations, opportunities for discovery, and cross-pollination across online platforms. One of our key focuses at Spotify is to democratise audio content and make it accessible to everyone - hence expanding to more than double the number of markets in which we operate since the beginning of the year, and now reaching over 180 markets worldwide. In doing so, we’ve become the No.1 podcast platform in addition to being the No.1 music platform in many of the markets in which we operate - which speaks to our ambition to be the world’s foremost audio streaming provider.”

Tell us one thing Spotify UK did that made you the most proud…
“In March, we launched Loud & Clear, a site for artists, to help answer questions and share useful resources about today’s streaming industry. Our goal as a company is to help professional musicians make a living, and the Loud & Clear site aims to increase transparency around the economics of streaming, help artists understand the process, and provide valuable foundations for a constructive conversation. The launch was an important moment and another step that we’re taking to empower artists with the knowledge and data they need to have a successful career.”


What new music were you most excited about this year?
“Afrobeats and its growing international success across the world. Also amapiano emerging as one of the most exciting new dance music forms coming out of South Africa.”

How did UK music culture change in 2021?
“I think UK music culture was forced to be more creative and more spontaneous with the emergence of new platforms. We had to move a lot faster to capture moments. Also the chart success of UK rap and hip-hop was incredible to witness and the creativity of everybody working behind the scenes creating content in very difficult circumstances. Special shout out to Luke Biggins who worked with so many artists delivering amazing videos – may he in RIP.”


How did radio do in 2021, after all the changes brought about in 2020? 
“Radio really showed its resilience, continuing to uniquely provide entertainment and companionship to a wide range of audiences. None more so than Radio 2 and 6 Music, with our stations’ continued support for a diverse range of new and iconic music makers from across the UK and around the world, delivering big audiences and strong listening hours.”

What's your message to the DJs and presenters?
“Thanks for bringing your love of music to your shows, and working with me, my music team and your producers to ensure that listeners hear the very best music mix available now on UK radio!”


What was the most exciting project you worked on this year?
“Moving into the live music industry was challenging during Covid but the ability to successfully launch the Afro Nation Chop Vegas [event] was a great representation of the potential that Pollen has.”

How did UK music move forward in 2021?
“More artists broke through which is always a good thing. Artists such as Central Cee, Digga D and ArrDee are certified stars. I doubt that any other genre delivers so much chart success with minimal media coverage.”


What were your biggest successes in 2021? 
“Firstly, building on our partnership with the BBC and YouTube. What we've been able to achieve is brilliant, and how we’ve built on that is amazing. Also, continuing our partnership with Help Musicians. We now have the MOBO Help Musicians Fund (MHMF) that is all year round, which means emerging talent can not only get financial support. Also, this year’s MOBO Unsung has been announced and then there is our platform Mobolise. I’m incredibly proud of what we've been able to achieve there.”

How did it feel to win the Music Week Strat Award?
“It was a truly pivotal career moment, you know. Especially to have been introduced by Clara Amfo and given the award by Craig David. To be celebrated in front of the whole UK music industry in a way validates the work we've been doing. It was a truly moving moment.”

Do you have a message to the wider music industry?
“That the ecosystem that has been created for black music continues to thrive.”

The ecosystem that has been created for black music continues to thrive

Kanya King


How did songwriting change in 2021?
“Remote-online songwriting has become the norm and it was not by choice. It has not been easy for everyone as the spontaneity you have in person in a studio isn’t something you can replicate. However, creativity always wins and some writers have managed to reach this new way of writing music.”

What was the year's most memorable chorus?
“My Heart Goes (La Di Da) by Becky Hill and Topic has never left me since the first time I heard the song.”


Lots of things changed in the industry this year, but what new development pleased you the most? 
“The continued growth of Tik Tok - its ability to help musicians and songs find new audiences is brilliant for the music industry.”

What was Warner Records’ biggest success, in your eyes, in 2021?
“Staying completely focused on breaking new artists and releasing brilliant music in another pandemic year! The commitment from the team has been incredible.” 


What was the best idea you had in 2021?
“Signing Digga D to EGA.”

What was the biggest moment for UK music this year?
“The return of Adele.”


What did the live business do best in 2021? 
“Learnt to listen to each other! We also learnt how to adapt to changing restrictions due to Covid 19 as well as being innovative in other areas in lieu of in-person shows.”

Personally speaking, what is your proudest achievement of the year?
“The London office is my proudest achievement of the year. We were all seriously affected by the reoccurring lockdowns but the camaraderie has been wonderful to see.  The recent hires of Whitney Boateng, Craig D’Souza and Andy Duggan have lifted the vibe of the office and made it an even more energetic, uplifting environment to work in.  Our team has never been stronger and the determination of all of my colleagues has been truly inspiring to watch.”


Should songwriters expect a new deal from the streaming economy?
“I truly believe so. Because dominant players in the music industry need to realise that malnourishing our creative base is a dreadful long-term business strategy, and that we can take action to make things better. Three big, foreign owned multinationals – the major music groups – are dominant across recording, publishing and beyond, and somehow via that dominance  the free market for music and importantly value of the song, now music’s most valuable currency, appears to be being suppressed. We need a new, ethical approach to the music business that understands that eye-watering profits and executive pay cannot be maintained while successful songwriters and composers cannot sustain a career from their music."

How did it feel bringing back the Ivors?
“It felt triumphant. We came roaring back after a year off and held the biggest Ivors ever. And that’s testament to the work of the Academy team and support from our friends at Apple Music and PRS for Music. To be back together in honour of the most exciting and talented songwriters and composers on the planet was a humbling experience.


How have you managed to advance the diversity agenda so far in your role as AIM chair?
“Firstly I think representation is so important, so I stepped forward to be part of the change I want to see in the industry. In 2021, AIM saw the gender representation of women on AIM’s board rise to 65%. Our board is stellar and the breadth of knowledge and care that the board bring into AIM’s strategy is a testament to the benefits diversity around the table brings. I’m proud to be a part of pushing AIM to both looking at itself honestly, we’ve had tough conversations and have pushed for positive change. I’ve been instrumental and at the centre of creating new roles to drive diversity not only in the team but also in its membership and make AIM a more inclusive place for all.

"Another thing I’ve been really passionate and focused on is supporting more female identifying founders to start their labels and support more female A&Rs. The gender disparity in the industry is complex and I’m working on a number of initiatives we are looking to undertake in 2022 to support more women entrepreneurs in the industry and in turn nourish and support female identifying talent.” 

What were your highlights at the Music Week Women In Music ceremony?
“There were so many highlights for me! Just being in the room with so many across the industry in person again (after 18 months on Zoom!) and celebrating women was special. The Women in Music awards is one of my favourite events in my calendar of the year so it was even more special to be honoured myself with an award. I was in awe of all the winners, loved hearing their speeches and I especially was inspired  seeing Olivia Hobbs, Founder of Blackstar, win the Entrepreneur award!  To see another woman who’s built and runs their own business in the industry be acknowledged. Oh and my Dad jumping up and throwing his hands in the air when I got my award was a very special moment I will never forget!”


Representation is so important

Nadia Khan, AIM



What was the biggest surprise of last year?
“Lyor Cohen moving to London.”

And your most cherished YouTube-related memory?
“Seeing the team again in person at The BRITs and Ed Sheeran premiering on YouTube Shorts.”


What did your company do best in 2021?
“We supported our songwriters and we supported our people. We continued to build the new Sony Music Publishing into the company we want it to be. We adapted, we evolved and we continued to strive for excellence. We’re very proud of the team and our songwriters and everything they have achieved in the last 12 months.”

Who is the writer you're most excited about right now? 
“Obviously, Ed is back which is exciting for everyone at SMP! There are so many incredible established songwriters on our roster who are smashing it at the moment that this could be a long answer so I’ll just mention a few new names I’ve been excited about recently: Mimi Webb, PinkPantheress, Dylan, Thomas Headon, Kal Lavelle. I’m also very excited about what Adam Feeney has coming next.”


How did 2021 compare to 2020 at Insanity?
“A lot better! 2020 was hard for the entire industry, but when you have an entire roster of domestic development it was particularly hard to navigate. It’s been amazing to see our artists be able to get out and build their fan bases again in real life, and through live in 2021.”

What one moment stands out from what the label did last year?
“Tom Grennan’s sold-out show at Alexandra Palace, and our first team gig post-Covid.” 


What was your favourite Isle Of Wight festival moment last year?
“The fact that it happened and we had four days of glorious sunshine!!”

How has the pandemic helped to bring the live sector together?
“We have formed the live group to lobby government as one body.”


How did AWAL drive success for Girl In Red in 2021?
“Our primary goal was to raise mainstream consciousness of Girl In Red and kickstart her repositioning journey from 'bedroom' artist to global pop phenomenon by mobilising the global fan community. The first phase of this approach was to shed light on a cultural movement conceived by the fans which originated on TikTok. The phrase, ‘Do you listen to Girl In Red?’ is asked by one person to another to determine whether they are LGBTQ+ or not. We worked with multiple OOH partners to deliver a synchronised global outdoor campaign which ran across fifteen key markets including UK, US, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Russia & Poland. The campaign illustrated how Girl In Red was listening and looking out for her fans using her voice and the response from the fanbase was both phenomenal and emotional. The second phase of this fan mobilisation then took place on top of the album release where we orchestrated surprise fan pop up appearances & free small capacity shows across Europe, where we saw thousands of fans follow clues via social channels to determine the time and location of the performances. The European promo run culminated in a performance at the MTV EMAs in Budapest where she shared the stage with artists such as Ed Sheeran & Yungblud.”

For emerging acts, did the landscape change for the better this year?
“The last few years have seen huge opportunities open up for emerging artists with more and more ways to reach an audience and lots of different partner models to choose from. This has accelerated in the last year and smart artists are taking advantage of it. The balance of power in the industry has shifted in favour of artists and that is something to celebrate.”

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